The Comedy Cellar is one of the most recognized and celebrated comedy clubs in the world. Founded in 1982, the Cellar has grown into a trusted space where comedians felt at home, not only on the stage, but provided a space where comedians could congregate over a plate of great food at the adjoining restaurant upstairs (The Olive Tree Cafe) and discuss nearly any topic on their mind. Its legend only grew as comedians from the Cellar would make reference to it in their work, feature it in a TV shows, or have it serve as a backdrop to a documentary. While it was not always packed rooms and hot crowds for The Cellar (particularly when the comedy bubble burst) many credit the Cellar for helping to keep comedy alive in NYC during the lean years.
Helping keep things going during the lean years has allowed for an explosion in current times. It’s nearly impossible to list all of the great comedians who cut their teeth at the Comedy Cellar, and it’s equally as impossible to name all the great comics you can still find working out new material in the small basement room. In the last few years, the Comedy Cellar has expanded to The Village Underground performance space around the corner from its current location. There, the long lines can be accommodated in a bigger room and provide even more stand-up comedy shows on a nightly basis. But owner Noam Dworman was not finished, he later added even more shows to the Cellar schedule by turning the performance space of The Fat Black Pussycat bar next to The Village Underground into a working comedy space as well – bringing the tally to 3 spaces hosting nightly stand-up comedy shows to packed crowds all on a single New York City block.
On April 5th, the Comedy Cellar might be taking its biggest leap, by opening a club at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas. A 250 seat comedy club with the goal of providing the same New York City stand-up comedy experience to Las Vegas audiences. “We are having a lot of success and I was itching around for something to do. I looked at the options and the idea of Vegas was appealing to me because Vegas is one of the most important show business towns in the world.” Dworman tells us via phone. It’s been 3 years in the making since Dworman felt the itch to expand. He approached “someone who had nothing to do with Caesars whatsoever,” but after a few introductions, it eventually brought him to a relationship with the Caesars Entertainment group, the owners of the Rio Casino. “Because I will not be there, I like the idea that the casino can handle a lot of the day to day issues such as, staffing, inventory, taking care of the room, etc. Which I do not know how to do remotely and I was concerned about it. Customer service, all of that stuff. I trust the Caesars organization to do all of that and I can concern myself with building the room and putting on the show.”
When you’re running one of the best comedy clubs in the world, putting on the show is exactly where you’d want the owner’s focus to be, and that’s exactly where Dworman and his team are putting their focus. “It’s going to look exactly like the Comedy Cellar [NYC]. Same brick, same everything. In a photograph you might have a hard time telling which place is which. It will have low ceilings, brick walls, even the stain glass sign.” A 250 person venue is a bit larger than the original Cellar space so it will have a few extras to it such as a front front bar and a green room for the talent.
It’s this focus on the experience that Dworman has the advantage over most. Talent for the Comedy Cellar at the Rio Las Vegas will be booked by the same people that book the NY clubs. The shows will be showcase shows, consisting of 4 comedians and one emcee flown out to Las Vegas every weekend. “I want to do showcase shows, which I think are better.” Dworman added that the headliners in Vegas are good, but he has full confidence that when it comes to great comedians, you just can’t beat the caliber of talent the Comedy Cellar can provide. All talent working the Comedy Cellar at the Rio Las Vegas will be talent that is already passed at the club regardless of location, Dworman stated, “we have comedians who perform at the Cellar that are from the West Coast. So we might fly them in from the West Coast as well. But it will only be people who have played at the Cellar.” It’s also because of this curated mentality that Dwoarman currently has no future plans for further expansion if the Las Vegas location is successful. Dworman feels if the expansion is too fast, the quality of great comedians will diminish and he has no plans on putting on less than stellar shows
Though he completely knows how to run a successful New York City comedy club, Dworman is still approaching the expansion with a bit of hesitation, when we asked him if he was excited about the expansion he responded, “Excited is not a word I would use,” adding “I’m so nervous about this thing right now because I have no idea if people will come!” Dworman is cautiously optimistic that his business model for one city will be just as successful in another like Las Vegas. However, he believes if you build it they will come, “our intention is to go out to Vegas and have by far the best comedy club anybody’s ever seen in Las Vegas. There’s a lot of options for the entertainment dollar out there so I’m hoping it will add up.”
The Comedy Cellar at the Rio Las Vegas will begin running stand-up comedy shows on April 5th. You can check the club’s website for show lineups and reserving tickets for all of the club’s locations.